by Drew McWeeny
The first real rabid Penny Dreadful fan I talked to was Greg Ellwood here at HitFix. He was a steadfast believer the entire time it was on the air, and he encouraged me to watch it. I was busy cutting the cord, though, moving away from cable subscriptions. I had no cable in the house, none in my office, and chose not to watch anything on TV. I used Hulu, Netflix, HBO Now, Amazon Prime. And if a show didn’t land in one of the services I used, then it just went on a list of things to watch someday. Maybe.
Today is that day for Penny Dreadful for me. After Greg, the person who really picked up that ongoing advocacy for the show was Brian Duffield, who shares my deep abiding love of Eva Green’s work, and he has always been insistent that I was missing some of her very best work by not finding a way to watch the show. I couldn’t justify all of the expense for one title, though. I just waited, and when I moved into my new apartment this week, I finally reversed course, buying a cable/Internet bundle with a very healthy On Demand library. I checked to see if I had a Showtime folder, and then checked to see if they had all of the Penny Dreadful episodes, and just as I got excited about that, Netflix also added the series, although only the first two seasons.
It was suddenly abundantly available and so I put on the first one this morning while working, and that rolled right into the second one, and all of a sudden, there was Eva Green, and there was this seance, and she grabbed this script by the neck and cracked it open and drank the marrow and never once blinked, damn near staring the audience down, daring them to look away.
That’s Eva Green, though. From the moment she appeared in The Dreamers thirteen years ago, she made it clear that she was no one’s fantasy, no one’s object, no one’s simple fantasy. She is willing to follow a good piece of material anywhere, and watching her tear into good writing is one of the great pleasures of film these days. When I spoke to her about her work in 300: Rise Of An Empire, I was practically levitating because it’s such a knowing, accomplished piece of work. She read that script, she got exactly how to make that character spring to vivid life, and she dug in unabashedly. I don’t think Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is very good, but she positively skins it. She leans into the stereotypes that Frank Miller’s using and she twists them all into her own particular versions of them. When she played “the Bond girl” in Casino Royale, she ended up making Vesper into something just as morally and emotionally complicated as the original Ian Fleming conception of the character, if not more so.
Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows has 99 problems, but Eva Green ain’t one. She showed up to that film to play, and she owns Johnny Depp in every scene in the film. Seems apt. In a world where men get to be character actors for decades, building rich galleries of portrayals of a wide range of types and voices and backstories, women are often relegated to teasing out variations on a fairly limited range of roles. Eva Green has never allowed herself to be held back by that, though, and when a filmmaker understands just what a rich collaborator Green can be, it seems like there’s no limit to the rewards that the finished film will reap. She should have the kind of career Depp has, and it seems like she is forcing the industry to bend to that idea instead of her having to give up and just take the girlfriend or wife roles like everyone else.
Today is her birthday, and I don’t particularly care what number it is. What I care about is watching the rest of this series in the weeks ahead, and savoring the way a TV show, especially today as the caliber of writing seems to have risen across the board, allows a great actor to do something they can never do in film, living in a character’s skin over time, building in a million details that make the character even more vivid, even more real. And if I could give her one birthday present, it would be the promise that no one will ever do to her work what Ridley Scott did when he cut the theatrical version of Kingdom Of Heaven in 2005. Her character had a son in the film who played an essential role, but when Scott was pushed to create a theatrical version of the film that was an acceptable length, he chose to cut her son from the movie completely, and it destroyed her character in a way that was remarkable. It was only once I saw the longer cut that I realized just how impressive her work was, and how much William Monahan had given her to do. Here’s hoping that as she continues to move from role to role, filmmakers rise to the challenge and they write strong, smart, eccentric roles for her to play. I’m looking forward to seeing her play Miss Peregrine in Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, and you can see the latest trailer for it below. But I want more for her. I want her to conquer. I want her to find a filmmaker who is excited by what she brings to a collaboration. I want Hollywood to deserve her.
In the meantime, I’ve got lots more Penny Dreadful to get to. Celebrate her birthday right and join me if you’re also been missing out.